Commentary: A fight for power in Sacramento tests boundaries of campaign finance law
The battle between Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon and his lieutenant, Sen. Roderick Wright, continues to unfold before a court that is not expected to rule on whether Wright’s political expenditures are legal or illegal.
It is an open question in Sacramento whether the state constitution permits the expenditure of cash as a campaign contribution to fund an elected official’s reelection campaign.
At the time of funding, the expenditure takes place before the election and, with no disclosure rules imposed, the source of the funds is unknown.
It is known that campaign funds are spent on political causes, but where and to whom is not.
To add a twist, as state law prohibits the use of state money to fund private speech, the use of campaign funds for political speech is legal.
At present, the Sacramento County Superior Court is scheduled to rule on the constitutionality of the expenditure, which Wright plans to make via in-kind political contributions to De Leon’s campaign.
As part of the case, the court is also expected to rule on whether Wright has violated the state constitution by making campaign contributions to De Leon through his campaign committee.
“It’s a big deal,” he said, adding that the case “might signal the beginning of the end of free political speech in California.”
The legal dispute reflects the limits of the political spending laws in California.
“The problem for the public is they have a statute that prohibits a bunch of stuff, but they have no restriction on what we can spend our dollars on,” De Leon said, adding that there are “no rules that tell us, ‘Don’t put any money in this particular campaign.’ ”
And, De Leon contends, “where the line is drawn, it’s not easy to know where to draw it.”
So De Leon, a former Republican state senator and one-time GOP candidate for governor, is going as far as to say that the money to fund his race with Wright “goes directly to support a speech by a sitting governor.”
The $3,000 Wright has contributed to De Leon is not to be made publicly